Friday, January 1, 2016

Nobody's Perfect

  The 1972 Miami Dolphins’ historical significance as the last perfect NFL team survived another year when the Atlanta Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday to drop the Panther’s record to a mere 14-1. The 1972 Dolphins used to be celebrated for their perfection until they seemed to be openly rooting for the 2008 New England Patriots to lose (the Patriots went 18-0 that year until losing in the Super Bowl). I think many people and media outlets felt cheated about not having their own perfect season to write about or say they saw and took their frustrations out on the Dolphins. The Dolphins haven’t helped their case very much either. In 2013 the team was invited to the White House to meet the President and celebrate the 40th anniversary of their perfection but three members decided not to attend because of ‘political differences’ which rightfully angered a lot of people that like to think that celebrating sports champions is one of the sure fire ways for Americans to show that we can at least agree on some things.

  Don Shula, the legendary coach of those Dolphins said he was rooting for the Panthers to go undefeated and I believe him since his son Mike is the Panthers’ offensive coordinator. I wouldn’t have minded seeing the Panthers go undefeated either. They remind me a lot of those Dolphins in the way I felt they were underappreciated all season. I listen to quite a few sports podcasts and the pundits seemed to pick against the Panthers every week. The Dolphins were so poorly thought of that they were underdogs in the Super Bowl.

  Now that the Panthers have lost a game do I think their season is over? Hardly! Two years ago I predicted Panther quarterback Cam Newton would be the star of the playoffs which didn’t happen. Every time I see Newton he misses at least three short passes that should have been easy completions. It caught up with him last week but the Panthers did win 14 games including a win at Seattle against the Seahawks. Heading into the playoffs I thought the Seattle Seahawks would be the team to beat based on their recent five game winning streak in which they scored 29 or more points in each game. Seeing them lose to the Rams on Sunday changed my mind. Unless the Seahawks get star running back Marshawn Lynch back from his abdominal surgery I think the Arizona Cardinals will provide the Panthers sternest test. I tend to discount the Cardinals because I don’t trust teams that live on the pass but the Cards have a great defense which is one of the pillars of championship teams. These are the only three teams I see with a chance to get to the Super Bowl from the NFC.

  The AFC looks like a pack of flawed teams. New England’s Tom Brady and the Kansas City Chiefs Alex Smith are the only two quarterbacks on the prospective playoff teams that were starters in training camp. The Broncos’ Peyton Manning, Bengals’ Andy Dalton, Texans’ Brian Hoyer have all gone down to injury while the Jets’ Geno Smith was unable to reclaim his starting job from perennial backup Ryan Fitzpatrick after getting his jaw broken in a training camp fight over $600. While keeping Brady healthy, the Patriots have been decimated by injuries to their wide receivers and running backs and are picking up players off the scrap heap each week to start on offense. The Chiefs may be the most complete team in the conference with a 9 game winning streak after losing running back Jamaal Charles and starting 1-5. I can’t bring myself to pick the Chiefs to win their first playoff game since Joe Montana started for them in 1994! Like everyone else, I was ready to jump on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ bandwagon to roll through the AFC until they dealt their playoff chances a near death blow by losing to the moribund Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs if they can defeat the Browns while the Jets lose to the Bills and if they do I’ll have some hard thinking to do before I make this year’s postseason predictions.

  The big shock heading into the final weekend of the season was the Philadelphia Eagles firing of head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly was the hottest of coaches when hired three years ago from the University of Oregon. His offense was fast paced and futuristic. Even the legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick studied Kelly’s methods and incorporated them into his offense. Kelly took over the Eagles from Andy Reid 4-12 team and won 10 games in his first two seasons with one playoff appearance.

  At the end of last season Kelly won a power play and obtained personnel control of the team. He proceeded to exercise his control by trading high priced star running back LeSean McCoy to the Bills and then signing Dallas running back DeMarco Murry to an even larger contract. Murray has gone from the NFL’s leading rusher to a marginal player getting less than 15 carries a game. New quarterback Sam Bradford was acquired from the Rams for starting quarterback Nick Foles and a second round draft pick. Bradford has been serviceable but is a free agent at the end of the year and hadn’t signed an extension.

  Normally winning 10 games two years in a row would buy a coach some time to rebound from a bad year. Reports say that Eagles owner Jeff Lurie wanted Kelly to give up his personnel duties and only fired Kelly when the request was refused. For an owner to fire his coach the week of the last game of the season tells me that either Kelly tried to coerce Lurie into a contract extension and failed or Kelly was so disliked by the organization that Lurie felt he needed acknowledge it by giving Kelly this snub. I don’t see any way Lurie will get a big name to come to the Eagles since one bad season could send them out the door. As for Kelly, while I can’t see any pro team hiring him knowing he will likely be angling for the total control he had in Philadelphia he will surely be a highly sought after college coach. In the professional ranks grabbing power and not winning is a cardinal sin while college coaches are given total control over the program as a matter of course. Kelly’s final losing season Philadelphia won’t be held against him in the college ranks because after all nobody’s perfect – except the 1972 Dolphins!